CARLSBAD — Solar power is many things, but to advocates and those in the business, it comes with information pitfalls.
To combat shady business practices, incorrect education, installation practices and rates, Sullivan Solar Power founder Daniel Sullivan organized community forums to provide those details and more for those interested in installing rooftop solar panels.
The seminars were held in Carlsbad, Rancho Bernardo and Chula Vista on Feb. 11 and drew more than 200 people, according to Sullivan. In addition, representatives from the Center for Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Campaign Executive Director and founder Nicole Capretz also spoke to residents.
She authored the city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan before leaving government work to start her nonprofit.
Overall, the two said the response was positive and receptive to the presentations, which also included home tours of residences that have solar installed.
“We have become very aware of issues in the market of who people could trust when it comes to getting facts about solar,” Sullivan said. “When we spoke with people a couple months ago, prospective clients, that they believe the solar industry is chalk full of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen.”
Sullivan, 39, who has been in business for 13 years, said he grew tired of ethical scourges who have led numerous customers into bad deals. As a result, he asked the CSE and CAC to facilitate public forums to relay accurate information regarding solar power.
For example, he and Capretz said potential customers should find three independent bids, appropriate licenses, insurance, references in addition to avoiding sales pressure and understanding the contract.
When Sullivan started his business, he said the other “couple dozen” competitors where doing it for the right reasons such as eliminating dependence on fossil fuels. Now, with more than 700 businesses in the region, some are playing fast and loose with the facts.
Mailers, robocalls, door-to-door salespeople from hundreds of companies are just some of the issues potential clients or even those not interested in solar face.
Secondly, customers are getting “blatantly” ripped off, Sullivan added. It is a result from improper installation and a lack of those companies understanding rate structres.
“With solar power systems, your return on investment is directly tied to how well your system performs,” Sullivan explained. “Performance is measured on how much energy that system yields on a daily, monthly and annual basis. Improperly designed or installed solar powered systems won’t produce what’s expected and savings won’t be realized.”
Capretz said other goals of the forums was in part driven by the city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and its aggressive drive for rooftop solar panels and having 100 percent clean energy goal.
“It was to educate the community of the potential benefits,” she said. “And how it plays into the vision for a clean energy future. It was just to say if it makes sense for you, here are some ways to go about it.”
Capretz said her focus is to provide neutral information for individuals curious about the market.
Her other goals include to inform residents on the climate crisis and how to stop it. One way, she said, is solar power.
As for the political concerns and rhetoric, Capretz said there are “high-pitched cries” on a national level, but locally people want to know if it makes sense and can save money.
She said the bipartisan support has traction when the discussion turns to energy independence.
“If there is a way to generate their own energy and save money, and oh there is a side benefit of clean air, that’s great,” she said. “I think people come at it for many reasons. I don’t hear locally about that fevered partisan concern about clean energy versus can it save me money.”
Sullivan Solar Power is slated to host more forums in San Diego in the coming months plus events in Irvine, Yorba Linda, Palm Desert and Temecula through April 15.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.